Jerusalem – As the public and legal struggle to curb discrimination within haredi educational institutions continues, many still face difficulties in enrolling their children to desirable ultra-Orthodox schools, and some parents of Sephardic descent have resorted to changing their last names just to fit in.
Haredi weekly “Mishpacha” (“Family”) reported in its most recent edition a growing trend of ultra-Orthodox families of eastern descent Hebraizing or “Ashkenizing” their surnames in order to increase their children’s chances of being accepted to Ashkenazi seminaries and yeshivas.
The clerks at the Interior Ministry’s population registry are already used to the practice: The family name Turjeman is changed to Truzman, Mussayev to Moskovitch, Shavo to Shavan, and so on.
“It’s no secret that Sephardic quotas in Ashkenazi educational institutions are limited,” said David Rot (pseudonym), formerly Shitreet. “Every Sephardic parent that registers their son to an educational institution is met with a stack of difficulties, unless they have a well known reputation or are well connected, or if they place a hefty donation on the table and the money makes up for the name.”
Yair Lev (pseudonym) who also changed his last name said, “I would rather not have taken this step, but in this world, everyone just looks at the outer wrapping of the name. If you don’t have to right name, things are harder for you.”
Both Rot and Lev said they had encountered much criticism from neighbors and members of their communities, with comments such as, “What’s so bad about being Moroccan?”, “The world isn’t stupid, who are you fooling? You were born Moroccan and you will stay that way,” but they said they had received some positive reinforcement as well.
Yoav Lalom, of the “Halacha Youth” organization for the struggle against discrimination in the haredi sector, told Ynet he is familiar with the phenomenon, saying, “It exists, but is not widespread.”
Lalom said he opposes the practice, which he calls “the easy solution”, adding that in many cases it ends up being counterproductive, as principals have been known to discover the truth about certain students’ origin during the school year and begun to pick on the “Ashkenized” children.
Headmasters of Ashkenazi institutions seem to regret the situation: “It is a shame that such prominent Sephardic families find themselves in this kind of situation,” an Ashkenazi rabbi from a well-known Jerusalem yeshiva told Ynet. “They are God-fearing Jews, even more so than us, and I guarantee that.”
His own institution, he stressed, does not discriminate: “For some Sephardic families changing the name will not do any good, since their mentality is completely different and unsuitable for our establishment.
“It has nothing to do with descent – past experience has proven that they just don’t assimilate well. It’s a shame to have everyone frustrated over it.
“We have in our school pupils with the most obvious Sephardic names. The only admission criterion is coming from a true God-fearing home,” he continued. “You can’t generalize the Sephardic community – some are adequate and some are not and it doesn’t matter whether they’ve changed their name. We have many Sephardic pupils on our honor roll. We love them.”